JOHANNESBURG - Her motto is doing good can be good for profit and country. She says the work of nurturing budding entrepreneurs that she today enjoys has its roots in what her father taught her.
Chief executive and country director for Enactus South Africa, Letitia de Wet, says her her father told exactly what to do when she felt uncomfortable about the happenings in apartheid South Africa. He told her something needed to change.
So despite being born in the predominantly right-wing town on Potchefstroom in the North West province, de Wet knew that fairness was virtue.
She says though born into a middle-class family, she realised very early in her life that schools seemed to favour kids from rich families at the expense of the rest.
When telling this to her father he simply encouraged her to treat everyone the same way and told her to work hard at every opportunity.
That, the old man said, would be her ticket to success.
“I guess the fact that I was elected as junior city council treasurer and headgirl of my school confirmed my father’s teachings. I wanted to be the best person I could be - graduate and live a meaningful life through impacting others,” says De Wet.
When change did come to South Africa and integration became the norm,she was seconded to the University of Johannesburg to manage strategic communication and perception management.
This, she says, was at the prime of late president Nelson Mandela’s time as the founding father of the democratic South Africa and with the ministry of education advocating mergers between former whites-only and predominantly black institutions of higher learning.
She left the job in 2003 to focus on what she liked to do best - entrepreneurship, establishing her own strategic marketing communications company.
The company landed its first contract with Carpe Diem Media where she launched Soul Magazine with Gerry Rantseli as editor.
Her passion to change the world was now in full flight.
In 2016 she was offered an opportunity to join Enactus (formerly Students in Free Enterprise – SIFE) as chief executive and country director.
Enactus is a US-headquartered international non-profit organisation that brings together students, academics and business leaders who are committed to using the power of entrepreneurial action to improve the quality of life and standard of living for people in need.
Its projects include rural development for small scale farmers, mostly black, environmental conservation and recycling, skills development, and business management, youth leadership development and entrepreneurship.
De Wet’s mandate at Enactus was “to grow our program within two years to include all public higher education institutions” in SA.
“We are finally getting entrepreneurship as a career into higher education,” says De Wet. Enactus programmes are active in all 26 universities in SA.
De Wet says the most important aspect of her job now is to change the youth to become entrepreneurs and not merely job-seekers, in addition to capacitating communities for their long term sustainability.
“I see myself as a visionary, educator. It is gratifying to observe how when we come together for the greater good, we all benefit,” says De Wet.
“Through the Enactus experience, our students gain leadership, communication, teamwork and other success skills. They deal with real world business challenges, develop an entrepreneurial mindset, become solution-oriented, see failures as learning opportunities, which makes our students to be sought after by industry,” she says.
Enactus is active in 36 countries worldwide, including nine African countries: SA, Ghana, Egypt, Kenya, Morocco, Nigeria, Senegal, Tunisia and Zimbabwe. Its partners and sponsors include Ford Motor Company, the Coca-Cola Company, Mondelez, Starbucks, Wells Fargo, Walmart and Unilever.
According to its website it has 27 teams which comprise 2 201 students from all 26 public universities in South Africa who have volunteered 621 752 hours to help communities in SA. Globally, 72 000 students, on 1 730 campuses have impacted 1.3 million lives.
“It is gratifying to see how our students gain confidence as their mindsets are changed through their involvement in our programme,” says De Wet.
De Wet has won may awards in recognition of her contribution and exceptional leadership. In 2011, she was honoured with the Jack Shewmaker Award for Leadership Excellence.
Then on Thursday, the Departments of Higher Education also gave her a special award for remarkable contribution to the advancement of entrepreneurship development in higher education
She says she still has a long way to go and chooses to look at the good side of people than the bad.
“I always focus on the positive, although it was harder for me as a young woman to get the same benefits as my male counterparts.” She’s been successful, she says, “because of hard work and dedication”.